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CHAPTER XI: After what manner a Man shall come to know his own Soul, and how a Man should set his Love in Jesus, God and Man in one Person
A SOUL that would know spiritual things needs first to have the knowledge of itself; for she cannot have the knowledge of a thing that is above herself, unless she have first the knowledge of herself. And that is when the soul is so gathered into herself, and separated from beholding of all earthly things and from the use of her bodily senses, that she feeleth herself as she is in her own kind, which is without a body. Then, if thou covet for to know and see thy soul what it is, thou shalt not turn thy thought with imagination into thy body, to seek it and feel it as it were hid within thy heart, as thy heart is hid and holden within thy body. If thou seek in that manner, thou shalt never find it in itself. The more thou seekest for to find and feel it as thou wouldst feel a bodily thing, the farther thou art from it. For thy soul is no bodily thing, but a life invisible, not hid and holden within thy body, as a less thing is hidden and holden within a greater; but it holdeth and quickeneth thy body, and is much greater in might and virtue than is thy body. If then thou wilt find it, withdraw thy thoughts from all bodily things outward, and from minding of thy own body, also from all thy five senses, as much as thou canst, and think on the nature of a reasonable soul spiritually, as thou wouldst think for to know any virtue, as justice, humility or any other. Right so think that a soul is a life immortal, invisible, and hath in itself a power to know the sovereign verity, and for to love the sovereign goodness, which is God; when thou seest this, then feelest thou somewhat of thyself. Seek thyself in none other place, but the more fully, the more clearly that thou thinkest of the nature and the worthiness of a reasonable soul, what it is and what is the kindly working of it, the better seest thou thyself.
It is full hard for a soul that is rude and much in the flesh for to have sight and knowledge of itself or of an angel or of God. It falleth presently to the imagining of a bodily shape, and it weeneth thereby to have the sight of itself, and in like manner of God, and of spiritual things. And that may not be, for all spiritual things are seen and known by the understanding of the soul, not by the imagination. Right as a soul seeth by her understanding, that the virtue of righteousness is to give to everything that which he ought to have; right so, and on such a manner may the soul see itself by the understanding.
Nevertheless, I say not that thy soul should rest still in this knowing, but it shall by this seek a higher knowledge above itself, and that is the nature of God, for the soul is but a glass,210210 Mirror. in the which thou shouldst see God spiritually. And therefore thou shalt first find thy glass and keep it bright and clean from fleshly filth and worldly vanity, and hold it well up from the earth, that thou mayest see it and our Lord therein also. For to this end do all chosen souls travail in this life, in their meaning and in their intent, though they have not the special feeling of this. And therefore it is said before that many souls beginning and profiting have many great fervours, and much sweet devotion, and as it seemeth are all burning in love, and yet have they not love perfectly nor spiritual knowledge of God. For be thou well assured that though a soul feel never so much fervour, even so much that he thinketh his body cannot bear it; or though he melt all into weeping, as long as his thinking and his beholding of God is for the most part or all in imagination and not in the understanding, he is not yet come to perfect love nor to Contemplation.
For thou shalt understand that the love of God is in three manner of ways; all of which are good, but each one is better than the other. The first cometh only through Faith, without gracious imagination or spiritual knowing of God. This love is in the least soul that is reformed in Faith, in the lowest degree of charity; and it is good, for it sufficeth to salvation. The second is that which a soul feeleth through faith and imagination of Jesus in His Manhood. This love is better than the first, when the imagination is stirred by grace, for then the spiritual eye is opened in beholding of our Lord’s humanity. The third love that a soul feeleth through spiritual sight of the Godhead in the humanity, as it may be seen here, is the best and most worthy, and that is perfect love. This love a soul feeleth not, until it be reformed in feeling. Souls beginning and profiting have not this love, for they cannot think on Jesus nor love Him spiritually, but, as it were, all manly and fleshly after the conditions and likeness of a man; and accordingly they frame all their working in their thoughts and in their affections. They fear Him as a man, and worship Him and love Him principally by the imagination of His humanity, and go no further.
As thus: If they have done amiss and trespassed against God, they think then that God is angry with them, as a man would be if they had trespassed against him; and therefore they fall down, as it were, at the feet of our Lord with sorrow of heart, and cry Him mercy. And when they have done thus, they have a good trust that our Lord of His mercy will forgive them their trespass. This manner of doing is right good, but it is not spiritual as it might be. Also when they would worship God, they present themselves in their thoughts, as if they were before our Lord’s face in a bodily likeness, and imagine a wonderful light there where our Lord Jesus is, and then they reverence Him, and worship Him, and fear Him, and fully put them into His mercy for to do with them what He will. Also when they would love God, they behold Him, worship Him, and dread Him as a man (not yet as God in the humanity), either in His Passion, or in some other thing in His humanity, and in that beholding they feel their hearts much stirred to the love of God.
This manner of working is good and gracious, but it is much less and lower than is the working of the understanding; that is, when the soul graciously beholdeth God in man, for in our Lord Jesus are two natures, the Humanity and the Divinity. And as the Divinity is more sovereign and more worthy than the Humanity, right so the spiritual beholding of the Divinity in Jesus Man is more worthy, and more spiritual, and more meritorious than the beholding of the Humanity alone, whether he behold the Humanity as mortal or as glorified. And right so by the same reason the love which a soul feeleth in thinking and beholding of the Divinity in the Manhood, when it is graciously showed, is more worthy, more spiritual, and more meritorious than the fervour of devotion, that the soul feeleth by the imagination only of the humanity, show it never so much outwardly; for in regard of that of the Divinity, this of the Humanity is but a human thing. For our Lord showeth not Himself in the imagination as He is, nor that He is, for the soul cannot at that time for frailty of the flesh suffer it so.
Nevertheless unto such souls that cannot meditate on the Divinity spiritually, that they may not err in their devotion, but that they should be comforted and strengthened by some manner of inward beholding of Jesus to forsake sin and the love of the world, wherefore our Lord Jesus tempereth this invisible light of His Godhead, and clotheth it under bodily likeness of His Manhood, and showeth it unto the inner eye of the soul, and feedeth it with the love of His precious flesh spiritually. The which love is of so great might, that it slayeth all wicked love in the soul, and strengthens it for to suffer bodily penance and other bodily difficulties in the time of need for the love of Jesus. And this is the shadowing of our Lord Jesus over a chosen soul, in which shadowing the soul is kept from the burning of worldly love; for as a shadow is made of a light and of a body, even so this spiritual shadow is made of the blessed invisible light of the Godhead, and of the Manhood united thereto, showed to a devout soul. Of the which shadow the Prophet saith thus: Spiritus ante faciem nostram, &c.—Our Lord Christ before our face as a Spirit, under His shadow we shall live among folks.211211 Lam. 4. That is, our Lord Jesus in His Godhead is a spirit, that cannot be seen of us living in the flesh as He is in His blessed light, therefore we shall live under the shadow of His Manhood as long as we are here.
But though that this be true that this love in imagination is good; nevertheless a soul should desire to have spiritual love in understanding of the Godhead; for that is the end and the full bliss of the soul, and all bodily beholdings are but means leading a soul to it. I say not that we should refuse the Manhood of Jesus, and separate God from man; but thou shalt in Jesus Man, behold, fear, admire and love spiritually the Godhead, and so shalt thou, without separating them, love God in man, and both God and man spiritually and fleshly. Thus our Lord taught Mary Magdalen to do like a Contemplative, when He said thus: Noli me tangere, &c.—Touch me not: I am not yet ascended to My Father. The meaning is this: Mary Magdalen loved our Lord Jesus well before the time of His Passion, but her love was much bodily and little spiritual. She understood well that He was God, but she loved Him but little as God; for she could not then, and therefore she suffered all her affection and all her thoughts to fall on Him as He was in form of man. And our Lord blamed her not then, but praised it much. But after when He was risen from death, and appeared to her, she would have worshipped Him with the same manner of love as she did before, and then our Lord forbade her, and said thus: Touch Me not. That is, set not thy rest nor the love of thy heart on that form of man which thou seest with thy fleshly eye, for to rest therein only, for in that form I am not ascended up to My Father; that is, I am not equal to the Father, that is, the form of the Godhead; and love Me, know Me and worship Me as God and Man, godly, not as a man, manly, so shalt thou touch Me. For since I am both God and Man, and all the reason why I am to be beloved and worshipped is, for that I am God, and for that I took the nature of man; and therefore make Me a God in thy heart and in thy love, and worship Me in thine understanding as Jesus, God and Man, the sovereign verity and the sovereign goodness, and blessed life; for I am so. And thus our Lord taught her, as I understand, and also all other souls that are disposed to Contemplation, and enabled thereto that they should do so. Nevertheless other souls are not so skilful,212212 Subtle in kind. nor are yet made spiritual through grace, it is good for them that they keep on their own working in imagination, with affections towards our Saviour’s Humanity, until more grace come freely to them. It is not safe for a man to leave any good thing utterly, until he see and feel a better.
In like manner may it be said of other kind of feelings that are like to bodily, as hearing of delectable songs, or feeling of comfortable heat in the body, seeing of light, or sweetness of bodily savour. These are not spiritual feelings; for spiritual feelings are felt in the powers of the soul, principally in the understanding, and in love, and little in the imagination. But these feelings are felt in the powers of the body in the imagination, and therefore are not spiritual feelings. But when they are even at best, and most true, yet are they but outward tokens of the inward grace which is felt in the powers of the soul. This may be plainly proved out of Holy Writ, saying thus: Apparuerunt Apostolis, &c.—The Holy Ghost appeared to the Apostles on the day of Pentecost in the likeness of burning tongues, and inflamed their hearts, and sat upon each of them.213213 Acts 2. Now it is true that the Holy Ghost, which is God in Himself invisible, was not that fire nor those tongues that were seen, nor that burning which was felt bodily, but He was invisibly felt in the powers of their souls, for He enlightened their reason and enkindled their affections through His blessed presence so clearly and so burningly, that they had suddenly the spiritual knowledge of truth, and the perfection of love, as our Lord promised them, saying thus: Spiritus Sanctus docebit vos, &c.—The Holy Spirit shall teach you all truth. That fire and that burning then was nought else but a bodily token showed outwardly in witnessing of that grace which was felt inwardly. And as it was in them, so is it in other souls that are visited and lightened within of the Holy Ghost, and have withal such outward feelings for comforting them and witnessing of their inward grace. But yet I do not think that such grace is in all souls that are perfect, but only where our Lord pleaseth.
Other imperfect souls that have such feelings outwardly, and have not yet received inward grace, it is not good for them to rest in such outward feelings, but only inasmuch as they help the soul to more love, and to more stableness of thought in God; for some may be true and some may be feigned, as I have said before.
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